In reading through last week's parsha (weekly Torah portion), I came across an interesting Rashi that seemed to condone a social issue I had always seen as painful and specious.
While Yitzchak and Rivka both prayed, in opposite corners of the room, to be blessed with a child, it was Yitzchak's tefillos (prayers) which were answered over Rivka's. On the verse "and Hashem responded to his pleas", Rashi comments that there is no comparison between the prayers of a tzaddik ben tzaddik (righteous person who is the son of a righteous person), and a tzaddik ben rasha (righteous person who is the son of a wicked person). In this case, because Yitzchak was the son of Avraham, his prayers were accepted over those of his wife's, who was the daughter of the wicked Besuel.
"Hmmm," I mused to my husband. "You know how there are some people who refuse to date ba'alei teshuvah (returnees to Judaism), or geirim (converts) because their background is perhaps not as spiritually sanctified? Well, doesn't this Rashi imply that there is basis for this objection?"
As I wrote above, I have always taken issue with this attitude, for a variety of reasons, all of which I am too tired to present here. But I wondered if perhaps I'd been wrong all this time. (Happens occasionally)
To which my husband replied...
"Uh, Riva...Yitzchak MARRIED Rivka!" :-)
He's clever, no?
Sometimes things look so easy. Until you try them. Like the time I thought I'd cut my sister's hair. I mean, it's just so easy. You take the scissors, you pick up the hair, and snip, snip. Right? Wrong. I bought her a bunch of pretty clips afterwards to console her till it grew back.
Well, I recently came across this extraordinary teaching of the Chofetz Chaim, a tw-century Jewish sage, adapted from his sefer (work) entitled Shemiras Halashon (Guarding One's Speech) for Chofetz Chaim A Lesson A Day by ArtScroll:
The Torah is called a "tree of life for those who grasp it" (Proverbs 3:18). The way to grab onto a tree is to take hold of one of its branches; in so doing, one has attached himself to the entire tree of which this branch is a part. So it is, explains Sefer Chareidim (ch. 61), with Torah. The way to attach oneself to the 613 mitzvos (commandments) is by fulfilling one particular mitzvah with exacting precision and total dedication. Dedication and attachment to a single commandment will cause one's soul to become united with G-d and His Torah and will lead to the proper fulfillment of other mitzvos as well. Thus do we find, "Rav Nachman said: 'I will be rewarded [in the World to Come] for having [zealously] fulfilled [the mitzvah] to eat three meals on Shabbos.' Rav Sheishes said: 'I will be rewarded for having [zealously] fulfilled the mitzvah of tefillin.'"
So after reading this inspiring passage, I was eager to play a round of "Adopt a Mitzvah". Hmmmm, I thought to myself, What mitzvah will be my magical mitzvah branch that can connect me to all of the other 613? Sounds simple, right? Well, every mitzvah I explored suddenly seemed to reveal itself in all its glory and potential difficulties. At the end of the day, there didn't seem to be a single mitzvah that would be easy and simple enough for me to take on as my special mitzvah. But there's got to be something. And it doesn't mean it has to be perfect from the outset. Progress is a good thing in this religion. So with that comforting thought in mind, I'm still thinking. What would YOUR personal mitzvah be?
The Nine Days are, for me, depressing, introspective, and frightening. I can almost feel a gasp of relief when Shabbos Nachamu comes; it is like a pent-up emotion, suddenly released, that I was only half-aware was there.
The news headlines don't really help much. With every story I read it is so clear how Hashem is tightening the vise of galus, trying to make us give up and turn to Him so He can finally redeem us. "Oh--the economic crisis wasn't enough for you? Iran's nuclear threat didn't do it? Okay, how about really serious anti-Semitism? No good? Okay, how about rabbonim being arrested so that the whole world will look askance upon Orthodox Jews. Does that hurt? Are you crying "uncle" yet?! No? Okay, how about in-fighting, Jew against Jew--even religious Jew against religious Jew, as in the case of the riots in Yerushalayim over the Hadassah case?" The noose of galus is pulled tighter and tighter, words like "another Holocaust" are bandied around with eery nonchalance.
Aside from the roiling cauldron of fear that dances and grows inside my heart, there's another emotion--I guess I could best describe it as somber self-introspection. It's the voice inside me that says, "You? What a joke! You're not doing enough! What are YOU doing to better your avodas Hashem? How do you ever expect Geulah if you don't get off your seat and start working some more spirituality into your life? What's with the lack of davening? What's with the lashon hara? What about being a good mother and wife? What about exalting Torah properly? How about tznius?!"
What about...what about..what about...ad infinitum. The accusatory finger wags and points and comes up with some pretty startling, downright shameful evidence. Woof.
So I rambled about it to my husband last night, railed against my horrible, less-than self, told him how far I feel and how there's no way that my actions are possibly bringing Geulah any time soon. And my husband--ever so wise!--pointed out something that I believe falls under the category of einfald (genius thought). I have to double-check with him about the source for this idea, but I will reveal it to you now, dear reader, in all its shining simple complexity, in the hopes that perhaps you, too, can benefit from its beauty. He said, "When you tell yourself you're a nothing, you're not very likely to be able to improve. When you tell yourself, instead, 'I am destined for greatness!', you're automatically on different footing. Surely, a person destined for greatness ought to be able to fit in a few small behavior changes each day, working toward a higher Self!"
That's it, folks. For today, I am a person destined for greatness, and all joking aside, it's true--simply because my soul is an immortal piece of G-dliness with magnificent, unlimited qualities. I think I will try to climb out of the doldrums of self-doubt and instead, do something constructive--like mumble a little tefillah. I mean, people destined for greatness do mumble tefillos, don't they?
How do YOU deal with the Nine Days and current world events?
In an effort to do real teshuvah (repentance) for not having blogged in so long I am trying to be extra-prolific. I know you're all proud.
My daughter is a born leader. Some kids just are. Thankfully, she is one of those benevolent dictators, and she knows just how to step into a situation and take control. I knew all this, of course. In fact, I have alternately marveled over this, talked to her about this, and spoken to my husband about this "Handle With Care" gift of hers for many years now. On the one hand, it makes her Queen Bee, at the top of the heap. On the other hand, it's painful when she's upended, which happens every once in awhile.
Last night I was interviewing a mental health professional for an article I'm working on--a major feature article which cracks open a delicate and difficult subject...a subject no one really wants to openly talk about...something "can of wormsish...are you curious yet? I think I'm supposed to keep a lid on things that haven't yet come out so you'll have to wait to see for yourself.
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.